Honolulu Civil Beat Launches With PayPal As The Great Link, Lower Trial Fee

Honolulu Civil Beat, Pierre Omidyar’s experiment in local subscription-supported journalism, went fully live today, complete with a first-edition headline you can’t get past without paying 99 cents for a 15-day trial. Unless someone shared the link with you — then you can see it for free if you link your PayPal account. PayPal isn’t only the way to pay for membership at Civil Beat, it’s the authentication system for access.

Linking a PayPal account gives Civil Beat permission to bill the account if you buy anything; this “allows you to make instant purchases of content without the need for you to sign in to PayPal each time you make a purchase.” For “a limited time,” linking your account comes with free access to content shared by members. (I’m not a member but was able to create an free-access link by trying to share the post I couldn’t read on Facebook.)

Paywall at work: Between Omidyar and founding editor John Temple, Civil Beat is one of the most eagerly awaited news startups/experiments. It’s also among the least accessible because of the decision to require payment to read most of the content from the start. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong; simply stating a fact. Hawaiians who want to read it all and take full part in discussions will have to pay $19.99 a month once the trial ends. (It looks like non-members can read discussions but commenting is reserved for members.) So will news junkies or people who want to support/follow Civil Beat for the journalism. Omidyar isn’t running the Hawaiian version of the nonprofit Texas Tribune, relying on a mix of backing, foundation money and membership fees that aren’t linked to access. Civil Beat is a business and this is the business model.

The paywall is omnipresent — as are reminders of how to pay. “Join the discussion by becoming a member.” “View the rest of this topic page by becoming a member.” “View the rest of this article by becoming a member.” it’s not a hard sell as much as it is a pragmatic one. You were interested enough in this topic to click, now pay if you’re really interested.

Trial fee lowered: Civil Beat started with a $4.99 fee for a one-month trial before escalating to $19.99. Now, the trial is 99 cents for 15 days — much more likely to draw impulse triers as long as they’re comfortable with using PayPal and with the conversion to $19.99 at the end of the period unless they cancel.

PayPal as login: When Civil Beat‘s site went live last month, I mentioned that PayPal was the only way to pay — which is to be expected given that Omidyar is the founder of eBay (NSDQ: EBAY). What didn’t sink in at the time was that PayPal also would be the only way to log in once you make that payment. It’s not unusual to link logins and payments: iTunes and Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) do it, among others. It may be more offputting to me because I only use my long-time PayPal account for spot payments and prefer not to have it connected with anything else, but I think Peer News would help itself if it found a way to allow members to use an alias.

Full chart of local and metro newspapers with paywalls